Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Sending

I arrived safely in China two days ago. For the first time, I'm posting to the blog using the e-mail method. This allows me to at least post, even though I can't scrutinize the results from where I am.

Gurdjieff, as I pointed out in my last post, was firmly rooted in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which includes both esoteric practices such as Hesychasm-- the cultivation of an inner silence, something to be highly valued -- and the Eucharist, the "standard" exoteric transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

In Latin, transubstantiation was originally called "the sending." From early on in church theology, it was apparent to intelligent practitioners that even after you went through the service, to all appearances, the bread and wine were still bread and wine. Incredible as it may seem to us today, there were others who argued that an actual physical change took place. The collision between the literalists and the mystics led to a rather sophisticated argument that emerged in 1215 during the Fourth Lateran Council in which it was explained -- to all appearances, for the future of the Church, satisfactorily -- that it was the essential or inner character of the bread and wine that changed -- that is, the nature changed, even though the substance did not.

I bring this history up because we are engaged in a process that is meant to invoke the very same change in man--not metaphorically, as we might understand the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, but quite literally, in that a man can become a vessel which may receive something higher, which changes his inner essence.

Madame DeSalzmann dedicated her own work quite specifically to helping those who followed in Gurdjieff's footsteps understand this process. The master himself, of course, always had the aim of helping his pupils to understand the same question -- as early on as his initial meetings with Ouspensky ( see the chapter on the chemical factory in In Search Of The Miraculous.)

The terrific difficulty that creates obstacles for all of us in understanding any of this process arises from the large volume of associative material we form in our intellectual center. 99% of that has to go out the door before anything new can enter us, and of that 99%, 98% of it is glued into us more firmly than any epoxy could achieve. Unfortunately, the books -- all of them, even Gurdjieff's own writings-- contribute to the problem. What I am writing at this very moment in effect contributes to that problem.

How can we sidestep all this interesting, but essentially interfering, intellectual material, and reach something deeper in ourselves? At what point does the understanding that we are meant to receive something from a higher level cease to be theoretical, and become an actual question of experience?

Unless one is quite fortunate, it can take years to come to even the first point where something of real significance takes place in an inner sense. This makes the work we are in more difficult than it ever was before, because we now live in a society where everyone expects the quickest results possible. People want results quickly, they want big results, and they want them without spending much. It's like that everywhere. Works that take decades -- or even multiple lifetimes -- before concrete experiences arrive can't compete with glossy magazines that promise enlightenment pretty darn soon.

As truly serious practitioners of Zen might realize, one needs to spend many years running around in this maze we call our personality before one finally realizes how helpless one actually is. It is only at the point of what one might call absolute exhaustion that one finally begins to surrender enough for something more to become possible.

And it is at exactly that point that the phrase "Thy will be done" begins to have meaning, because it is only in the softening and dissolving of this hardened lump called "me" that a higher energy can arrive.

It's clear enough to me that I can't do much to bring this about.

But I can prepare.

Recently, I have been working to examine the question, in a practical and immediate manner, of what it means to put the attention to where the impressions enter. A good effort in this direction by default sidesteps a great deal of associative material, because it requires the attention to examine a wide variety of immediately available states and sensations that don't have any good labels or verbal descriptions that can be applied to them.

To put it in plain terms, once we are in the middle of it, well then, we are in the middle of it. It is a place that by its very nature tends to defy analysis.

This particular activity is closely related to the intimacy which I have suggested we attempt to cultivate in many earlier pieces of writing. We are not intimate with ourselves enough; that intimacy needs to be a physical and emotional intimacy, not just an intellectual familiarity with our psychology, which is where so much of our energy goes in what we call "self observation." That intellectual familiarity can be quite useful, up to a point, but it doesn't have that much to do with what we are, seeing as it is only about a third of us at best. Specific attention turned to the arrival of impressions produces an inner relationship of a distinctly unique character.

Cultivating this unique character of intimacy is helpful because it also brings me much closer to an immediate experience of my negativity, which manifests itself not just emotionally, but also quite clearly in both thought and in the body. Becoming lovingly close to my negativity is an important part of accepting what I am. I use this unusual expression, "lovingly close," because I cannot hope to achieve much by approaching my negativity in a limited, pejorative way and negating it or punishing myself for it. As odd as this may sound, it needs a little sympathy from me-- as I put it day before yesterday in a poem, a "kind intention towards the darkness."

May the Living Light of Christ discover us.

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